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Stowaways and Other Problems - South Africa Now & Then

Jamie was a purser with Shaw Savill and has been sharing some of his stories here on “Ramblings of a Salty Seadog”. This week I received a troubling message that he had received from a friend with South African connections who has been very distressed with the current situation over there. I will share a little of it here.


These past few days have been particularly sad for me. South Africa, with its magnificent beaches, breathtaking coastal drives, undulating hills, dramatic Drakensberg mountains, wineries and game reserves is a country that I love dearly. Is it any wonder that for many years, My wife and I have kept returning.

We have many friends in that corner of the globe and happy times catching up with them have always been ‘great craic’ filled with many laughs!

We regularly keep in touch and so the latest news on what is sadly happening in South Africa is not rumour or hearsay but comes straight from those who live there.

Over the past few days, in a number of cities across SA, violence has been erupting on an almost Armageddon scale with some 45,000 businesses destroyed.

Various factors appear to have conspired to make the perfect storm.



By Jamie Shedden

In 1969 , two days sailing out from Capetown homeward bound to UK, on Shaw Savill’s Passenger liner, Southern Cross , the deck department bosun, discovered unusual items stowed in Lifeboat 16. The bosun and deck crew were carrying out regular maintenance of the lifeboats whilst at sea, which was normal practice. The items found were clothing that would not be left in the boat by the crew, which aroused suspicion that we may have an extra passenger on board.

Obviously, during daytime hours, this person or persons had vacated the boat before dawn and presumably returned to the boat after dusk. The bosun set up a lookout by the funnel casing which on Southern Cross was located aft, and just above lifeboat 16.

Shaw Savill's Southern Cross leave Cape Town in 1969

A young Africaans man was apprehended and relocated to the brig, adjacent to the isolation hospital, where he was held under lock and key for the duration of his time with us. He was allowed out for fresh air and a little exercise twice a day on the aft docking bridge.

On way to UK, we stop at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands however, his next landfall was Capetown where he slipped on board the ship without documentation. In my days of liner service, we had many visitors whilst in port, and there was no record kept of visitors boarding or leaving the vessel, so in fact, it was very easy to stow away without being noticed. The shipping company, or rather our agents, Rennies Travel in South Africa, issued visitors passes, but there was no record held of numbers visiting or leaving the ship.

Our stowaway was under the impression he would be landed in Southampton in England, but unknown to him, Shaw Savill, had arranged a rendezvous with a southbound cargo ship Carnatic, and we met about 7 days out of Capetown, just before dusk, and our stowaway was transferred by lifeboat to the cargo boat. It caused excitement for our passengers and crew to see one of our lifeboats sail to the other ship. Our young man had enjoyed a two-week “cruise” to nowhere at expense of Shaw Savill, and he no doubt had free accommodation at a Capetown jail for a few months on return to South Africa.


Another wee story from South Africa, before we arrived Las Palmas , homeward bound to Southampton on Shaw Savill’s Southern Cross, an elderly lady came to Purser’s Office to enquire about her mail. I remember this lady quite vividly, she was a Mrs. Blumenthal, our Rennie’s agent in Durban was Mrs. Blumenthal, and thought this lady may be a relative, but apparently, it’s quite a common name in South Africa, and she did not know the Rennie’s agent.

Anyway, she came to our office to check if there was any mail for her. She was very concerned that she had not heard from her relative in England, she said she had posted a letter to her sister, the day after we sailed from Capetown.

Trying to keep a straight face, we told her the letter would be mailed from Las Palmas.

To which she responded rather angrily, I sent my letter airmail, I didn’t want it to go sea mail, no wonder my sister has not replied!!

We agreed to send her sister a marconigram ( telegram) at Company expense. Apparently she thought the mail would be landed by helicopter off South African coast !

More stories by Jamie

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